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Bush names commission to study tax simplification

David Jackson Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – While aggressively pushing changes to Social Security and lawsuit rules, President Bush acted Friday to delay another big piece of his agenda: Tax simplification.

He named a commission.

The time-honored way to postpone politically challenging policies – Bush did the same thing with Social Security – the commission has until July 31 to review possible tax changes before they are dumped into the political cauldron of Congress.

“It seems like to me the tax code today discourages economic vitality and growth when you spend billions of hours filling out the forms,” Bush said in announcing the panel.

Bush met in the Oval Office with the two ex-senators he asked to co-chair the effort, Republican Connie Mack of Florida and Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana.

Among topics to be considered by the nine-member commission: A “flat tax” in which everyone pays the same percentage of income; and some form of national sales tax.

They also figure to review a variety of tax breaks – “loopholes” in the eyes of some, “incentives” to others.

Speaking with reporters outside the White House, Treasury Secretary John Snow said “everything’s on the table here,” though there appear to be exceptions.

Snow noted that the executive order creating the commission said “the panel should give due consideration to the importance of the charitable deduction and the home mortgage deduction.”

“And we will,” Breaux chimed in.

Bush and congressional Republicans also want any tax simplification to be “revenue neutral” – no higher taxes, in other words.

As the new commission spends seven months holding hearings and reviewing the tax code, the Bush political team pursues other priorities.

After the Oval Office ceremony, Bush flew off to Michigan to stump for restrictions on jury damage awards, saying they are hurting small businesses.

The White House is also investing political capital in trying to change the Social Security system, allowing recipients to invest funds.

Bush campaigned on Social Security changes back in 2000. But after taking office, he submitted the idea to a special commission while pursuing tax cuts and an education bill with Congress.

Critics said Bush stacked the Social Security Commission with members who already believed in private accounts.

Some made a similar complaint about the new tax group, saying that it is designed to pursue further tax cuts to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and that it will enlarge the budget deficit.

“Again, we see a White House looking for so-called recommendations only from those everyone knows will agree with the administration,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the top Democrat with the House Committee on Ways and Means. “That’s not leadership, it’s close-mindedness.”

Snow said the Treasury Department would work with the tax commission as the July 31 deadline approaches, and then develop a plan to submit to Bush.

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